Before the 1920s makeup wasn’t so easy to handle, and most girls kept it to a minimum. Luckily, that changed in the early 20s.
Remember the first time you watched “The Great Gatsby?” Besides all the glitter and partying, I bet you noticed how all the girls wear the same, simple, yet effective makeup. That was the era of Old Hollywood when everything was about glamour.
The fashion in those days was over the top. All that glitter, corsets, lace, silk, fur, pearls, and diamonds created a dramatic look. It seems like girls were all dressed up constantly to show off their wealth. That’s what triggered the makeup industry to evolve and grow.
Since everything that is labeled as retro is now in demand, that inspired me to explore the world of vintage makeup brands and find out if some products are still available for purchase.
A Brief History Of The Makeup Industry
In history classes, we all learned that ancient Egyptians used beauty products and cosmetics made from natural ingredients to enhance their beauty and protect their health. What makeup artists call a cat-eye nowadays, Cleopatra wore daily as a protection from the evil eye.
Makeup wasn’t used only for decorative purposes until the 20th century, as I previously mentioned. People mostly used it in religious rituals, to protect their bodies from the sun, or to camouflage when in war or hunting. So naturally, it didn’t evolve before as it wasn’t so important.
What you probably didn’t know is that the beauty industry revolution began with two African-American ladies who developed products specifically designed for differently textured hair. After WWI, everything starts flourishing, not only the beauty industry.
American housewives become eager for new makeup products, so Elizabeth Arden opened up her first beauty salon where she offered “makeovers”, and Max Factor created the first liquid foundation for film purposes in 12 different shades.
Greta Garbo was the one who popularized using the eyebrow pencil and soon after that, the first mascara was made. After these first steps, the makeup industry and trends evolved from decade to decade.
From minimalistic and natural makeup styles to 80s makeup trends when everything was so big and bold, we’ve seen everything. Today makeup industry is more about creating natural and eco-friendly products, rather than being innovative.
Notable Vintage Makeup Brands
Now that I’ve introduced you to the topic of this article it is time to take a look at the most notable vintage makeup brands that changed the cosmetic industry and made it to be what we know nowadays.
Elizabeth Arden is still one of the biggest names in the makeup industry. She was a talented innovator best-known for the striking lipstick shades that inspired women all around the world. Also, she was known for her mantra, “To be beautiful is the birthright of every woman.”
Inspired by her mantra, she created skin products that enhanced the quality of the skin and not only mask the problems. Not only that she opened the first beauty salon in NYC, but she also brought the colored cosmetic trends to the US, which was more conservative at that time.
Her famous red lipstick Montezuma Red was launched during World War II, and it promoted women’s emancipation! Her wish was to support all the women who joined the armed forces, so the red shade was created to match the red on their uniforms.
Considering she was traveling a lot, she realized that women all around the world need travel-sized beauty products and packages that are easy to carry around. Here are some of her best vintage makeup products:
- Famous Eight Hour Cream is a moisturizer that they still sell today!
- Flawless Finish Foundation was invented in the early 1900s, available for purchase.
- V for Victory Red lipstick that unfortunately isn’t available anymore.
Poland’s makeup artist and cosmetologist that was named the father of modern makeup, with a good reason. Max Factor was best known for improving the greasepaint that was used as a foundation, mainly on actors on the movie sets, since the texture was hard to apply.
Thanks to his hard work, glamorous Hollywood makeup blossomed. He invented the world’s first thin, easy-to-apply version of grease paint that didn’t crack when actors mimicked their faces. This was a forerunner of today’s liquid foundation.
Since he own his own lab and was able to customize shades for his clients, soon he became the personal makeup artist for movie stars and helped them to create their signature looks. As the film industry evolve, his makeup products evolved as well.
The most famous transformation in history was when he dyed Jean Harlow’s dark hair into a platinum blonde color. Here are some of his signature products:
- Pancake makeup is his famous foundation that can still be bought on Amazon.
- Erace was the first concealer invented in the 1950s.
- Mascara wands, MF was the first one who used a wand instead of a brush for application.
Rimmel is a British cosmetic brand that was established in 1834. But before this Rimmel was a famous perfumery. When Eugene Rimmel started working with his father, he brought focus to hygiene products and makeup (mainly eye makeup).
Eugene was a very skilled perfumer and cosmetologist so naturally, he started exploring new colors, scents, and ingredients. Rimmel is considered a pioneer in the field of personal hygiene products. He created the first mouth rinse, scented pomade, and toilet vinegar.
Also, in the field of makeup, he invented the first non-toxic mascara, using petroleum jelly, and coal dust, instead of mercury. This formula was messy and unstable (high temperatures and petroleum are a bad combo), but it was revolutionary!
The mascara that we know and use today, is in fact a colorant that Rimmel made for covering grey mustaches.
Rimmel’s notable product:
- Superfin mascara for ladies.
- Water Cosmetique for grey mustaches.
- Toilet Vinegar is the first mouthwash.
Maybelline was and still is a global cosmetics giant. It all started in 1915. when a teenager Thomas Williams founded a company inspired by his sister’s “makeup routine”. She mixed Vaseline and coal ash to sharpen and darker her eyelashes.
His first cake mascara was released in 1917. and was called Lash-in-Brow-Line, but he soon renamed it Maybelline to honor his sister. After this, his next innovative product was waterproof eyeliner that he launched in 1925.
But what Maybelline did for the cosmetic industry was not only in the field of product making. This company was the first one to utilize radio advertising. In case you ever listed some vintage magazine, you will for sure see his advertising campaigns.
Before him, no one was doing the “before and after” commercial campaigns, where he showcased what an amazing transformation you can achieve with his products. There is no question about why and how his brand became so popular almost overnight.
Now one hundred years later, Maybelline still rules the makeup world thanks to its affordable prices. Here are some of their most popular products:
- Maybelline cake mascara was a compressed powdered formula that was applied with a brush.
- Fluid Eyeliner was the first waterproof eyeliner.
- Maybelline Eye Shadow in six different shades.
In 1932 two brothers and a chemist founded Revlon, a company that created the first colored nail polish. By that time nail polish was only available in transparent color, and covered only a small part of the nail.
Their main goal was to create a product that will cover the whole nail and conceal any flaws. Revlon’s first nail polish line was a great success, and the reason was the color. On top of that their company’s policy was that women should match their nail color with clothes.
After the initial success, they extended their color pallet to 21 color shades, which was revolutionary at that time. What made them stood from the competition was that they treat nail enamel as a fashion statement.
Just like clothes were changed with each season, Revlon also created new colors in spring and fall to replace the previous ones. This way their offering was always new and fresh and every woman was drawn to buy it.
Soon they figured out that it would be a great idea to create a lipstick line of shades to match the exact nail polish shade. So in 1939, they created their first lipstick line. What made this lipstick special, was its smear-proof formula. Their most notable products:
- Revlon Nail Polish.
- Revlon Cherries in the Snow lipstick was made in 1953, this shade is still available.
- Revlon Cheek Stick is a cream rouge created to match the lipstick shades.
Just like most other vintage cosmetic brands, Coty first started as a perfume brand. After studying perfumery In Grasse, Francois Coty founded his company in 1904. He was not only famous for his high-quality products, but for his custom bottle designs as well.
In 1908. Francois made a creative partnership with famous French glassmaker Rene Lalique (you all heard about Lalique I’m sure). His crafting skills and custom creation contribute to popularizing Coty’s perfumes. Everyone wanted to own this piece of artwork. Even the Romanovs.
When the early twenties arrived, the accent was far more on cosmetic brands. The loose face powders were more popular. A lot of companies at that time were producing and selling this kind of product but rare were the ones who offered the quality and longstanding product.
This is why the Coty company invented the bite test to teach their consumers that the most important feature of loose powder is the size of the particles. The smaller the particles the finer the texture of the powder is, and the better coverage and overall performance.
Their most famous product was launched in 1935 under the name Coty Airspun Loose Powder you can still purchase it on Amazon.
This brand has a very interesting story about how it all started. Two sisters opened up a cosmetic shop in 1976. with an idea to help women solve their minor beauty dilemmas They created products that help fake the natural beauty and help cover the problematic area.
Soon after the opening, they were asked to create a nipple tint for exotic dancers that were worried that their breasts aren’t appealing enough to the public that was far away from the stage.
The same night they boiled some rose petals to create a discrete and healthy-looking flash color and called it a “rose tint”. This product is what we now know as Benefit lip and cheek stain that you can purchase in your local Sephora.
They are also known for creating products that have multiple purposes, as well as Lim Plump gloss in the 80s. What additionally draw attention to their products were their catchy and playful names that never disappointed.
Their most notable products besides the nipple tint are:
- Hoola bronzer which became a staple product of this brand
- Gimme Brow tinted volumizing brow gel
The rule was, and still is that you shouldn’t be applying makeup on problematic skin before you cleansed and protect it well. Dr. Erno Laszlo was a dermatologist and among the first people who devoted his work to creating formulas for treating skin conditions.
He was the one who prioritized cleaning the face with soap and water instead of with then very popular, cold creams. Dr. Erno believed that water not only helped to clean the skin but also rehydrate and revitalize the epidermis.
The company was an innovator in many fields including:
- Creating personalized skincare products.
- Creating sunscreen products with pH balance.
- Developing skin care line specifically for teenage skin.
- Developing a special water-based skincare line for problematic and oily skin.
His most popular product was the black soap named Deep Sea Mud Cleansing Bar created for treating oily and acne-prone skin. Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Great Garbo, and Audrey Hepburn used this product.
Founder Theron T. Pond was a scientist that became popular when he created a medical cream to treat minor wounds and other skin diseases and inflammations. He used an extract from a medicinal tea made of witch hazel to produce a Pond’s Extract which was a very popular product in the US.
Realizing how skincare was a very popular and lucrative business he decided to start working on cosmetic products that will enhance skin health. By this time all his products were created to resolve the problem and not prevent the problem.
This was very important, especially in the 20th century, during WWII when women had to replace the men and take over their job while they are out fighting the war. Their skin was exposed to harmful factors that were harsh on their skin such as wind, cold, and UV rays.
At that time POND’S created their signature dual product Cold Creme, a half moisturizer, and half cleanser and makeup remover, to help women maintain their skin soft and clean. This product is still very popular and available at stores.
Lastly, this list couldn’t be complete without this all-time favorite. Chanel is a luxury fashion brand founded in 1910. In the first years of its existence, it mainly focused on woman’s fashion, and luxury accessories.
By the early 20s, Chanel became a very popular brand in the high-end society. Coco’s fashion creations were elegant and sophisticated but that wasn’t enough. In 1921. Chanel was the first fashion brand that launched its own perfume to accompany the collection.
This move guaranteed their customers some kind of exclusivity that no other brand offered before. Soon enough everyone heard about their significant perfume CHANEL N°5. Motivated by the huge success of the perfume, Chanel decide it is time to enter the world of cosmetic and skin care products.
Just a few years after they released its first cosmetic line consisting of face powders in different shades. In 1924. Coco was dissatisfied with the quality of lipsticks that were offered on the market, so she created her own line.
What differentiated this lipstick was its creamy and ultra-pigmented formula that wasn’t heavy on the lips. Their Rouge Allure Intense Long-Wear Lip Colour in shade 99 Pirate is one of the best-selling red lipstick of all time.
Coco didn’t stop here, she created a wide variety of skin-care products like toners, creams, lotions, and scented soaps. Her most popular skincare product was jasmine oil with a soothing and moisturizing effect. The silky and light texture with a fresh floral scent was a groundbreaking invention at that time.
CHANEL’S most popular products:
- CHANEL N°5, the iconic fragrance still available today.
- Rouge Allure in 20 different shades.
- The Luxe Multitasking Jasmine Oil was made in 1927, this product was relaunched in 2017.
The names that I’ve mentioned above are some of the oldest beauty brands that are responsible for evolving and shaping the beauty industry into what it is today. A multi-billion-dollar worth industry that makes women all around the world feel confident and powerful.
If you know some other brand that is worth mentioning, please make sure to share this information with us in the comments below.